I learned the importance of self-care the hard way.
In 2012, my business exploded. It’s what I worked hard for and felt up to the challenge. I wouldn’t call myself a perfectionist, but I’m pretty fixated on doing a great job, being accountable and being reflective. These are all essential qualities that have served me well as I sought to build a reputable business.
As a Black girl growing up in the 70’s, My parents told me that mediocrity wasn’t acceptable. I needed to show the world what exceptionalism looked like to combat common stereotypes of Black people. Whew. I now recognize the burden of that charge, but it’s hard to beat back when it was drilled so deeply into your mind and soul.
So here I stand, representing the dreams of ancestors who came before me and sacrificed so much for me have it all. I bought the dream and then some. I own a decent size private practice. The business yearly revenue tops seven figures, and I’ve garnered respect in my state for the work that we do. It’s a pretty good feeling. Except, it came with a huge cost–my emotional and physical well-being.
I remember standing in the hall of an elementary school where we provide services. Sheer panic came over me as I realized I didn’t have my keys. On my keychain were my car, office and home keys, so there was a reason for concern. What was more concerning is that for a minute, I could not speak. At that moment, my anxiety was so high, and it paralyzed me. I didn’t know what to say or where to begin looking. I wanted to cry, but that wouldn’t have been appropriate given the location. It wasn’t about the lost keys; it was about the events that lead up to that moment.
I was running on empty. There were plenty of nights that I kept the midnight oil burning and was up again before the sun. I didn’t say, no enough. I took on tasks up tasks with no regard to how full my plate already was.
I wasn’t exercising with any regularity and had no social life. I felt like those things took second place to other more ‘important’ priorities.
I had hired a lot of contract therapists because I needed to keep up with the need. One lesson I learned was not to hire in haste because it often can be costly. A couple of the therapists I employed were contentious about everything, instigators and thought they knew more about my practice than I did. It was an interesting process to see how group dynamics work but allowing that type of poison to linger, can have deleterious effects in a workplace. Again, more stress and additional worries about keeping up with the expectations of others.
So there was the confluence of many things that conspired to make my life a living hell. I’ll never forget the hot summer day I woke up with a rash on my chin. Not only was it on my chin, but it was also on my eyelids. Yikes, I wondered if I had caught something from one of the little ones with whom I worked. A trip to my dermatologist revealed that I had an autoimmune disease that was affecting my skin. Big massive tears were shed as he told me there was no cure and that for the rest of my life I’d have to give myself injections of medication to beat back the inflammation. Prolonged exposure to stress often triggers inflammation and autoimmune disorders.
Yes, stress was killing me, and no one knew it but me. That’s because I did an excellent job of hiding and pretending. I still smiled, laughed a lot and got things done. Oh, the price I paid.
Fast forward to how I took control, regained my happiness and health.
I terminated the troublesome contractors. That instantly improved the internal morale of the practice. I also learned better ways of screening potential employees to avoid future dysfunction.
I went back to the gym and dedicated time to escape by working out. I practice mindfulness, but not nearly to the extent to reap the full benefits. I’m working on that.
I stopped working so damned much. I cut back by as much as fifty percent. It seems counterintuitive for trying to grow a profitable business, but freeing up my time, gave room for more creativity. I also learned the art of delegation and grooming others to take on responsibilities.
I only answer my phone when I feel like it. I’m not screening calls; I’m protective of my time. I will always return phone calls, but when the time is right for me.
I say, no a lot more. No, I can’t take on more clients. No, I cannot talk right now. No, I can’t hear about your relationship woes. No.
I’ve learned to slow down my responses. Not everything is an emergency requiring my immediate attention.
As I conclude this post, there is no need to summarize the important points. I think it’s quite clear that if you don’t actively engage in taking care of yourself, prioritizing your health, it will catch up with you. My health remains an issue which is troublesome, but I do what’s in my power to tamp back the damage that has been done from enduring chronic stress.
If you’ve read till the end, chances are, this is a topic that speaks to you. Listen very carefully to your inner voice and do whatever it takes to make changes in your life. Sometimes, it means radical changes. Sometimes it’s little maneuvers, but still meaningful in the bigger picture.